How Much Do Tattoo Artists Make? We’ve Done The Research
Last Updated on May 7, 2021
written by tattoo artist Steven Martin
Want to know how much a tattoo artist can make? Here’s all you need to know about that.
Are you looking to get in tattooing and wondered how much does a tattoo artist make yearly?
Well, you’re at the right place!
Becoming a tattoo artist requires a lot of time and dedication. Whether you’re looking to get started in the ink then working out how much you’ll be earning is a brilliant way to start.
Gifted artistry, steady hands, and a hell of a lot of courage come into play, especially when your skin is the canvas and the results are permanent. Tattooing is wild and diverse and has grown massively in recent years as more and more people look to get inked.
Let’s jump into the average salary of a tattoo artist in the United States, shall we?
So how much do tattoo artists make?
Everyone has to start somewhere and tattoo artists start from the bottom and make their way up and earn a more experienced tattoo artist job title and reputation.
Let’s break it down:
Beginner/apprentice tattoo artist average salaries:
If you’re looking to get started in the world of tattooing then you need to be prepared for a hell of a lot of time, sweat, and investment into tattooing.
For your first two years usually, you are working for free, and for some tattoo shops you even have to pay to train on top of not being paid– you heard me, zero dollars. The tattoo apprenticeship is often the hardest part.
You won’t tend to get paid until you’ve acquired a license, finished your training, and working more independently, it can take months or years before you start earning even a pinch of money.
But it isn’t as easy as paying for the apprenticeship as a whole, while you’re earning nothing you still have to pay for your tattoo machines and equipment which can take quite a toll on the wallet.
So when you start out in a tattoo shop you shouldn’t expect to be earning anything, tattoo artists take years to build their tattoo artist salaries while also taking a lot of dedication and love for the industry.
First-year tattoo artist salary:
After your apprenticeship has been completed and you get your license you can start earning money from your work, but how much does a first-year tattoo artist make?
An entry-level tattoo artist’s salary can vary from person to person, as you often get paid for the amount of work you do rather than a standard wage.
A beginner tattoo artist’s salary tends to vary from around $15K a year to $23K a year in the United States.
Average Tattoo Artist Salary:
Once you’ve got a couple of years of experience under your belt you should expect an average tattoo artist salary starts at around $32,000 a year depending on your state.
In Texas, the average salary is usually around $38,000 a year while in New York City it can be as high as $54,000 a year. Where you live has a massive role to play in your yearly salary as a tattoo artist.
But it isn’t as black and white as that, it all depends on your skill, clientele, level of experience, and how well you are with people.
It’s easy to say yes you’ll earn more if your location is in NYC than you would if you lived in Texas as prices tend to be higher in NYC but this is just an average and it all depends on skill and experience.
States like Los Angeles can also earn you a hell of a lot of cash for an average tattoo artist, usually around $43K a year.
High-End Tattoo Artist Salary:
As you become more experienced and have art for tattooing you may be able to get yourself on a high-end tattoo artist’s salary.
Tattoo artists tend to follow 20-60-20 rules, so 20% will be below average, 60% will be average and then 20% will be above average. So if you’re a high-end tattoo artist then you may earn an income of up to as much as $210,000 a year!
Building up your reputation and building clientele and a bit of hard work and you can even venture out to be your own tattoo shop owner, and make 5x more money than your regular tattoo artist make, or maybe even be able to tattoo celebrities one day!
Then we get into the famous tattoo artist industry, these tattoo artists can earn millions if they have the skills and the reputation as well as some famous clientele.
It works almost like a snowball effect, if you get one or two famous clients then they’ll share your tattoos on social media and hence draw in more clients to your studios. You can even start your own show like ‘LA Ink’ by Kat Von D which will massively build your reputation and clients.
Kat Von D earns around $5 million annually by being a famous tattoo artist.
What Factors Determine a Tattoo Artist’s Salary?
Now, above I have mentioned these are the average figures for yearly tattoo artists earnings but it can differ between individuals within the tattoo industry.
Intermediate artists can earn as much as a highly experienced tattoo artist or as little as a beginner. There are many factors that will determine your pay and how much you earn.
Here are the top factors:
Experience and skill level:
Tattoos are works of art, you’re an artist creating a permanent painting on someone’s skin. Clients aren’t paying you for labor or to have a botched tattoo, they’re paying you because they like your art and they like the quality of your work.
Every tattoo artist has an artistic flair, a different way of approaching their art, it is a very opinionated industry– what one client may love, another may hate.
The more skillful you are at art will reflect in your tattoos, your tattoos will be much more detailed and elaborate. Plus if you have this kind of skill then you can earn more from one of your tattoos.
This is why some newer artists can earn more than those that have been in the business for years, if you have the reputation and people love your designs then essentially you’re bound to be earning more.
Until you reach that high level of skill and intricacy in your artwork then you won’t be able to charge a premium. Part of your earnings is also from the client in tips, as you build your body of reputation then some clients will tip and that tends to take up as much as 20% of a tattoo artist’s monthly salary.
As you build your skill level and experience this will come hand in hand with building your clients. A client is much more likely to recommend someone they trust to friends and families which leads to more clients.
The location of your studios makes a world of difference with how much money you can bring in from the tattoo market and how much commission you earn per tattoo.
Tattoo parlors in bigger cities tend to earn much more than smaller ones and that’s the same for anything really. If you have a tattoo shop in a small town then you won’t get as many clients and hence won’t be able to charge as much as a tattoo shop in Los Angeles or Manhattan.
Bigger cities also tend to have larger clientele as there is a higher number of people living in the city. If you have a large clientele, good reputation, skill, and live in a big city then you can start earning big bucks quickly!
If your tattoos are not popular then you won’t be earning much, being popular is the key to becoming a successful tattooist. A popular tattoo artist ensures that you have a steady stream of customers.
If your tattoos are popular you can start to earn a good reputation through word of mouth and nowadays through social media, such as having a large following on Instagram.
A popular tattoo artist makes a lot more money than one that doesn’t have the same level of popularity. They tend to have a long waiting list of customers and never seem to have any shortages of jobs and work.
If you’re popular in the tattoo industry then tattooing is a brilliant career path and there is a lot of money in the tattoo business if you’re good at what you do!
Once you’ve got popularity in the bag then a tattoo artist’s income will really begin to increase (so will the clientele). If clients are fighting to get to the chair and get tattooed by you then you can also begin to charge a higher commission rate too!
This combined with being a pro on the socials can really help to build your reputation and face of the brand, which can even lead to celebrity league tattooing, especially if you live in big cities like NYC.
Speed of Work:
Now I know, art takes time and quality is a working progress but the faster you work, essentially the more you earn.
No matter how popular you have, how many customers you have, and how many bookings you have, you will however much you can do in one day. If you work like a snail your income will be lower as a result.
The faster you work (without compromising quality) the more earnings you’ll get and the more popular you will be as a result because you will be able to ink more clients in a day.
The more tattoos you do, the more it will add up when it comes to your yearly income.
Word of mouth:
Referrals, recommendations, and good reviews from people are the key to the success of tattoo artists. It is the foundation of building up your brand and the popularity of your work.
It may take years to build your reputation but once more and more people know about your work then it will work as a snowball effect. Building a good social media platform will also massively help to build this client-based network and increase earnings.
Overall, tattoo artists don’t tend to earn lots, to begin with, it takes a lot of dedication and skill to become successful artists.
That being said, if you have the skill and willingness to put in the work you can be earning a decent income and do a job that is extremely rewarding–plus keep in mind average tattoo artists earn around 30-50k a year!
Practice makes perfect and practice makes a brilliant, high-earning career.